The New Juneteenth Day and Federal Holidays

Congress enacted the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law Thursday, officially making June 19 a federal holiday. The new law recognizes the date in 1865 when Union Major General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and that, pursuant to President Abraham Lincoln's 1962 Emancipation Proclamation, all enslaved people “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

This year, June 19 is on a Saturday so the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that the federal government would be closed today. Earlier this year, most federal workers in the Washington, D.C. area were given a holiday when governmental offices in the region were closed for Inauguration Day. Federal employees in other areas had a regular work day.

With passage of the bill, there are now eleven annual federal holidays (plus Inauguration Day every four years in the capital city). These designations are only legally applicable to federal workers and the District of Columbia. Businesses are not obligated to give their employees the day off or provide premium pay for a federal holiday. States have authority to establish their own holidays.

There are also proposals in Congress this year to establish additional federal holidays:

  • H.R. 1, the election overhaul bill passed by the House, would make election day a holiday,

  • Representative John Katko (R-NY) introduced H.Res. 203 which urges the President to declare National COVID-19 Vaccination Awareness Day as a one-time federal holiday, and

  • H.R. 150 by Representative David Norcross (D-NJ) would establish a Workers’ Memorial Day holiday each year to "to remember workers killed or injured on the job."

As noted, H.R. 1 was passed by the House, but the bill was rushed through, only giving the Congressional Budget Office time to complete a partial cost estimate that did not include the new federal holiday. NTUF estimates that the holiday would cost $918 million, including base pay of $858 million plus $60 million in premium pay for necessary workers.

There are two components to the cost of a federal holiday. First, it provides an additional day that federal workers are paid but do not have to work. An estimate can be arrived at from available OPM data regarding federal civilian employment payroll totals. Before enactment of the new holiday, there were set to be 250 working days and ten national federal holidays. The cost per day of the federal civilian workforce (excluding the Postal Service) was reported to total $858 million.

Second, there are some federal employees who still have to work even though it is a holiday; this would include Transportation Security Administration agents and other federal law enforcement or homeland security employees. These workers are eligible for premium pay. Based on information provided to NTUF by OPM in the past, premium pay has amounted to roughly 7 percent of the base holiday pay. At that rate, this would total over $60 million this year. 

To an extent, some of these costs can be mitigated because of reduced use of utilities and other operating expenses in federal buildings and facilities, but this amount is difficult to determine.